Sherman Alexie on writing and infidelity
Oxford's supposedly an hour away. Somehow, it feels more like three weeks. I drove there to see Sherman Alexie speak at Miami University last week. I showed up 15 minutes early and snagged one of the very last seats. By the time the author walked out, there were people standing five rows deep at the back of the room.
I'm not sure what I was expecting, but it wasn't this: "My head is enormous," Sherman said, holding his arms out wide. "My head is so big that when women start hanging around me in large numbers, their periods begin to synchronize."
He was hilarious. Irreverent. Rambling -- almost sounded more like a guy who'd drank a six-pack than a National Book Award-winning lecturer (or is that even an oxymoron?). Under the humor, though, there was a constant questioning, an uncomfortable jabbing in the ribs.
"Who here has been cheated on?" he asked at one point. Maybe a quarter of the people raised their hands.
"Who here has cheated on someone?" he asked. Just a few brave hands went up.
"Ahh," he said. "See, there's a dichotomy here. What does that mean?"
He paused. Then, he asked: "Who here's thought about cheating?"
Not many hands went up at all. Sherman looked at the crowd, hands on his hips, head cocked to the side. "Oh," he said, "Apparently, the state motto in Ohio is fidelity."
From his rambling 90-minute talk, here are my three favorite writing tips:
1) Don't take yourself too seriously.
"One of the reasons I'm a great writer -- and I'm a great writer," he said (tongue in cheek), "is because I've never really grown up."
2) Writing without emotion isn't writing.
"How do I give the same talk for 25 years and still stay interested?" he asked. "How do you work on a book for months and years and still make it matter? You put yourself in the same emotional state as your characters."
3) Always seek the truth.
"If you want to tell a good story, you have to tell the truth," he said, even if that truth's uncomfortable. "Writing for adults is harder than writing for kids. How can we get through your preconceptions, your deceptions? I don't have to worry about that (with kids). Kids don't ban books."
Sherman Alexie won the National Book Award for his YA novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.
Upcoming literary events
TODAY: Poetry Month Mini-Workshop, April 9, 2017 @ 2:00 pm - 3:30 pm. Books & Co, 4453 Walnut Street, Dayton, OH 45440. A free Antioch Writers' Mini-Workshop. Great for poets and writers of all types -- challenge your creativity and learn some techniques to enhance your writing craft! Led by poet Jamey Dunham. More.
MONDAY: 43rd Sinclair Writers' Workshop. April 10, 2017 @ 11:00 am - 4:30 pm. Sinclair Community College, 444 W 3rd St, Dayton, OH 45402. The English Department hosts Writing for Transformation, a free workshop featuring author Melody Moezzi, storyteller and memorist Omope Carter Daboiku, and poet Grace Curtis. This event is open to the public. More.
MONDAY: C. V. Hunt and Linda Riesenberg Fisler. April 10, 2017 @ 1:00 pm - 3:00 pm. Centerville Library, 111 W Spring Valley Pike, Centerville, OH 45458. Meet two local authors in the Centerville Library lobby! C. V. Hunt, from Montgomery County. Her featured book will be We Did Everything Wrong, c2016, a novel of dark humor; and Linda Riesenberg Fisler, from Butler County. Linda's featured book is Blind Alliance, c2017, a thriller. More.
MONDAY: An Evening with Orville Wright. April 10, 2017 @ 6:00 pm - 7:00 pm. Beavercreek Community Library, 3618 Dayton Xenia Rd, Dayton, OH 45432. Orville Wright, in full period costume, will discuss and interact with the audience about the time, challenges, achievements and more regarding his life and brother Wilbur. Registration required. More.
TUESDAY: Talk with Orville and Wilbur Wright. April 11, 2017 @ 6:30 pm - 7:30 pm. Dayton Metro Library - Kettering-Moraine Branch, 3496 Far Hills Ave, Dayton, OH 45429. Meet Wilbur and Orville Wright (as portrayed by Ross Gaby and Tommy Collins) and enjoy their talk about the history of flight. More.
TUESDAY: Craft a la Carte: Description with Katrina Kittle. April 11, 2017 @ 6:30 pm - 8:30 pm. Starbucks, 2424 Far Hills Ave, Dayton, OH 45419. Elmore Leonard said, “I try to leave out the parts people skip.” Nothing makes a reader skim more than long, flat passages of description that stop a story’s momentum. No matter what kind of writing you do (fiction, memoir, poetry, essay), this class offers tips, tricks, and exercises designed to make your descriptions come to life. Price: $45. More.
TUESDAY: Nexus Poetry and Fiction Reading. April 11, 2017 @ 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm. Wright State University Student Union, Discovery Room 163. You're invited to a poetry and fiction reading hosted by the Nexus Literary Journal. Contact email@example.com for more information.
WEDNESDAY: Greg Iles introduces Mississippi Blood. April 12, 2017 @ 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm. Books&Co, 4453 Walnut St, Beavercreek, OH 45440. (Line numbers beginning at 6 pm. Please show your books&co receipt for Mississippi Blood to get a line number.) GREG ISLES, author of the epic Natchez Burning trilogy, will introduce the concluding book in the series, Mississippi Blood. Iles illuminates the brutal story of the American South in a highly atmospheric and suspenseful novel that delivers the shocking resolution his fans have eagerly awaited. The other two books in the bestselling series are Natchez Burning and The Bone Tree. More.
FRIDAY: CINCINNATI: Denise Duhamel. April 14, 2017 @ 4:00 pm - 5:00 pm. Elliston Poetry Room, 646 Langsam Library, University of Cincinnati. Denise Duhamel’s most recent book of poetry, Blowout (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2013), was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and winner of a 2014 Paterson Poetry Prize. Her other books include Ka-Ching!; Two and Two; Queen for a Day: Selected and New Poems; The Star-Spangled Banner (winner of the Crab Orchard Award); and Kinky. Duhamel is a professor at Florida International University in Miami. More.
SATURDAY: Poetry Pow-wow, April 15, 2 p.m.-4 p.m., Blue Jacket Books, 30 S Detroit St, Xenia, OH 45385. Featuring five Dayton-area poets: T.J. McGuire, Karen Howard, Fred Kirchner, Matt Birdsall and Joan Harris. More.
A 1-Question Interview with R.A. Morean
Q: What has teaching others about writing taught you about craft?
A: That fear is pervasive.
Everyone has a story to tell. Writers can chat up a story quite well. They can speak of character development, plot twists, ancillary characters who are layered, nuanced, and complicated. But often, they are talking and not writing. What they are is scared. And that fear keeps them from writing. I honestly think writing is exhilarating, hard work and that craft comes with the doing. You have to show up, as Stephen King says, and do the work. I hate it when established authors try to deconstruct the process in ethereal terms. There is nothing mystical about sitting in a chair putting thoughts on paper. There is no secret to success. As Liz Strout and Sue Grafton both said, to be a writer you have to be fearless. Which means, of course, that you're scared and acting like you’re not. This turns the act of writing into one of bravery.
R.A. Morean is the author of Dance of the Spider Monkey: Monograph #1 (writing as Abbey Pen Baker), which came out two weeks ago. The Myrl Adler Norton Mystery follows Sherlock Holmes' daughter as she investigates a grisly murder. "Myrl and Faye are two lively women sleuths!" Publisher's Weekly writes. Learn more here.
Until next week, may we all pretend we are not scared,
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